Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Giver

I must confess that I truly did not know what I was getting into when I started this blog back in December, 2008. I had read several book blogs for a couple of months -- I enjoyed reading them -- I enjoyed reading books -- I find writing cathartic --- it seemed like a good fit for me. What I did not expect to find was the wonderful camaraderie of this blogging community --- the huge number of books that I would add to my TBR list each and every week --- and a deep appreciation of ALL genres of literature, including Young Adult (YA) novels.

My (incorrect) assumption used to be that YA novels were written for the 11-16 year old crowd and those who are older than that are too "mature" for the adolescent content. OH MY --- I have been proven wrong on several accounts. I am absolutely LOVING the Harry Potter audiobooks --- and The Giver is definitely not just for the YA audience!

I finished reading this book about 2 weeks ago, but I was finding it difficult to formulate a review. Since I read the book for my high school book club, I decided to delay my review posting until we met as a group to discuss the book. One of the students in the class chose this as one of her all-time favorite books, and that is how it came to be our final book selection for the academic year.

Here is a summary of the book, as it appears in a Bookrags PDF file:
Where Jonas lives, life is safe, orderly, and predictable. Rules are strictly adhered to;every aspect of a person's life is carefully planned. People rarely make choices on their own; everything is decided for them by the community. There is no snow or sunshine, no colors or music, no animals or nature.

People in the community take special care to avoid doing or saying anything different.In the community, one must not say anything that causes discomfort to others, and one must use language precisely. Husbands and wives are matched as couples by a Committee of Elders who reviews each individual to see if a person's characteristics will be compatible with those of his mate. Exactly two children−one male and one female−are assigned to each family unit. The elderly live at the House of the Old.
When Jonas and other Elevens become Twelves in December, they receive their Assignments that assign them to their particular fields of profession. Jonas is assigned to become a Receiver of Memories. He will be the one person in the community who has access to all the memories of the past. The Receiver has knowledge of things that no one in the community has access to, but the Receiver also has the responsibility to shoulder the burden of sorrow and pain that the memories bring.

Gradually, through the memories he receives from
The Giver, Jonas comes to realize the various truths about the community. He realizes that it is unfair to deprive people of ever being able to make choices for themselves about their own lives. He understands that the people of the community have no genuine feelings. Feelings have never been a part of their lives. He also learns that there are different ways to live. Through the memories, he sees people in the past living differently, and feels that the community must change.
Reactions were quite mixed in yesterday's class. Several students began by saying that the ending was "lame." They enjoyed the first portion of the book --- but felt that the ending was weak. Why? Well, after several probing questions and 50 minutes of discussion I think it came down to this: these students want a nice, tidy ending. They did not like the fact that the story ended so abruptly. What is really quite interesting is that they did not equate this "abrupt" ending with an ambiguous ending. They did not see that there are two ways to interpret it. Most of my students chose to interpret the book in an optimistic way: Jonas sees the Christmas lights and this is the start of a new life. There was one student, however, who viewed the lights as a final hallucination before his death.

The book did provoke great discussion from nearly all 6 students. The themes of euthanasia (disguised by the clever euphemism "Release") and Utopian vs Dystopian societies were discussed at length. It was very rewarding for me as a teacher to hear students analyze what they read with the Christian worldview with which they have grown up. Our conclusion is that God's perfect plan is indeed, perfect. While freedom of choice makes for an imperfect world, a world void of choice - or feelings (good and bad) makes for a hopeless one.

I personally found the book to be very thought-provoking and one that I know I will want to re-read (possibly multiple times). While the somewhat simple/straight-forward writing style is geared toward the YA market, I think the subject matter is quite mature. Lois Lowry wrote the book in 1993, and if memory serves me correctly, the media was focused on Dr. Kevorkian (mercy killing), David Koresh (secluded societies who abide by their own laws) and animal cloning. Middle school students in the 1990s were exposed to such issues and I think this fictional story provided an outlet for them to voice their own concerns and opinions on these controversial topics in a non-confrontational way.

While I think these topics are not foreign to our 21st century middle schoolers, I would caution parents to consider reading this book along with your student so that you can help your child understand and interpret some of the more disturbing scenes. I am sure it will provide some wonderful opportunities for mature discussion and sharing of faith and/or value systems.


  1. Wow, I've seen this book around, but don't think I ever knew what it was about. I really want to read it now.

  2. I've not been a big reader of YA fiction (I shared many of your pre-blogging ideas of the genre), but will make an effort to get to this soon.

  3. What a great review! I love that you relate what your students thought. Wonderful.

    You are sooo right, I am grateful every day for this kind & supportive community!

  4. I'm so glad you blogged about this book! It has been a favorite of mine for a long time. When my son and daughter read it in school, we too had a lively discussion about it. To me, the book typifies the best of YA fiction. I have to admit, though, that when I read the sequel, I was quite disappointed. It just wasn't as good as the original.

  5. I read your post with keen interest, having read and reviewed The Giver last month on my book blog, Suko's Notebook. This book is definitely thought-provoking!

  6. The Giver, and basically any book Lois Lowry has written, is my ultimate favorite book. I read it in middle school or high school and just loved it. I've since then read just about all of Lois Lowry's books. She is an amazing author. I had the chance a few years ago to attend an ALA convention that she read from The Giver. Amazing.

    A great read. One that I have reread a few times over the yeas.

  7. I'm so glad that this book created a good discussion for your students. I can see why it would be a really good starting point for discussions on topics like euthanasia in schools.

    Nobody has really heard of this book in the UK (my review on Amazon was only the 3rd on the UK site - I think there are 3000+ reviews on the US site) I wish it was more popular here.

    I'll ensure my boys read it when they are older, it is a great introduction to some very serious issues.

  8. This one has always been one of my favorites too. You do know there are two companion books for this one: Gathering Blue and The Messenger. They are interesting, but not near as good as The Giver.

    Your high school book club sounds fun! My daughter does a book club with the principal at the elementary school. I think it's so cool. This month they are discussing The Westing Game.

  9. Wow! Good job on 50 minutes of discussion. Sounds like a great club.

    I've never read this one, I'll have to put it on the ol' list.

  10. How great that your students have the opportunity to read something so thought provoking and then can openly discuss it in a non-judgmental environment. All mid and high schoolers should be so lucky. I'm so glad to know great teachers are alive and doing well.

  11. How neat to share this with your high school students! They wont know it yet, but this is a great segue for them when they reach college and are asked to think critically about literature and writing.

    Although it's been awhile since I've read The Giver, I loved this book and, like you, plan on reading it several times over. Books where you gain more on each read are such great treasures!

    I really enjoyed this review!

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  13. Molly--I just finished drafting this Sunday's Salon post and it is all about blogger influence. I've listed out all the books I've bought and read because of blogging and this is at the top of my list! I forgot to mention that I've been reading YA, so maybe I'll go amend, but isn't it amazing the things we've discovered and learned through blogging?

    I was kind of surprised at how adult some of the themes in this book were. I hadn't really read a lot of YA either and didn't know what to expect. I think some of the themes/plot elements could easily be misunderstod by younger readers. Great review!

  14. This is probably my favorite book of all time. I read it first in middle school, in the 90s like you mention in your review. And now I revisit it every year. It really is an amazing book. And the companion books Gathering Blue and The Messenger, while not packing the same punch, flesh out similar themes.

  15. Hello, fellow English teacher! I love your review of this wonderful book. We've been taking this book up in class for a few years now, and I agree that it deals with mature themes. Glad to know that you had a fruitful discussion in class.

    You might also want to check out Lois Lowry's Newbery acceptance speech the year she won it for The Giver. http://www.loislowry.com/pdf/Newbery_Award.pdf

    It's also a great resource for discussion.:)

  16. I read Lois Lowry's "Numbering the Stars" last week. It is simply a beautiful book. I learned some very interesting facts about Denmark in WWII. I have "The Giver" on my read in August list.


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